Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Day 10 - Eating Durian Fruit

I have never tried Durian fruit.  For those of you who are not familiar with this tropical "treat", it is widely known as the stinkiest fruit on the planet. While people that have tried it consistently state the taste is a semi-sweet flavor far removed from the smell, every person and resource that discusses the fruit struggles to describe exactly how Durian smells or tastes. Descriptions range from the worst smelling and tasting food ever to a natural delicacy that one must learn to appreciate. The enigmatic nature of the Durian was enough to piqued my curiosity, and when I learned a local Asian foods store had the fruit in stock I decided to pull the trigger and experience Durian for myself.

Durian fruit
Over the weekend I made the trip to the food store to confirm they had Durian available for purchase. After a few minutes of searching, I found the Durian in the store's small but extensive produce section. The Durian was awkwardly piled in a cardboard box lifted off of the ground by a small wooden pallet. The football-eque shape of the spike laden fruit made it nearly impossible to stack neatly, which meant only a few of the fruits fit in the container. The picking was slim, but it was the only choice I had if I was going to taste the Durian fruit. Upon further inspection, I was surprised to find each fruit covered in a light frost. Interested to learn why this was the case, I asked one of the store's employees if the fruit had been frozen. He explained the Durian is frozen for shipping, but that this process is mainly intended to minimize the fruit's aroma instead of maintaining its freshness. In response, I raised my eyebrow and let out a concerned yet captivated "Hm." The employee then proceeded to point out a tag connected to each Durian that said "keep frozen at -18 degrees Celsius" and explained I would understand if I decided to take one home. The man nodded and smiled before walking back to his work sorting and stacking products in the store. Intrigued, I committed to trying Durian as a part of my "I have never..." journey. Knowing it would take several days to thaw the large fruit, I bought one that day and took it home.

After freezing the Durian for a day I moved it to my refrigerator to permit the fruit to thaw. As the hours passed it became obvious the fruit's aroma was becoming more pungent each time I grabbed something to eat or drink. At first, the smell came across as a faint blend of musty basement and spoiled milk, but it began to change as the fruit thawed more. By the time I arrived home from work today, the Durian had started to develop a fuller scent closer to a blend of natural gas and rotten fruit wrapped up in dirty socks. The smell was enough to make me furrow my brow... and I had yet to cut into the thing.

Here we go...
After this initial experience, I was anxious to follow through with my Durian experiment. Perhaps driven by some kind of aberrant curiosity, I was actually a little excited to see exactly how bad the Durian would smell once I cut it open. I knew the only way to find out was to take the next step in the process. After preparing a knife and a cutting board, I donned some oven mitts and readied myself for the first slice into the fruit. Now, I realize the middle of that sentence may confuse some people, but having been physically wounded by the Durian's spikes a few days earlier, I heeded the advice of a Youtube video on cutting Durian and protected my hands during the process.

I grabbed the knife with the flower print mitt wrapping my right hand, turned the fruit on its side, and began cutting. There was no change in the aroma at first, but seconds later I was hit with a waft of the Durian's interior. The earlier scent of dirty-rotten-gas-sock-fruit doubled in intensity as I continued cutting. I expected it to get worse as I sliced further down the fruit's side, but I was surprised to find that the smell had reached a plateau. It smelled bad, but it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be.

How do you like my mitts?
"The worst is over," I thought as pried the Durian open. I glanced at the yellow fruit resting inside the pointy husk and removed the oven mitts from my hands. Without hesitation, I picked up a fistful of the fruit and gave it a closer inspection. Perhaps lulled into a false sense of security after the scent had peaked, I decided to go all in, biting off a mouthful of the Durian. In the first moment the light, semi-sweet flavor and creamy, nougat-like texture of the fruit didn't seem too bad... until the fruit's trademark aroma hit the roof of my mouth.

That's when it hit me...
The scent immediately augmented the taste and sent my senses into overdrive. I had a mouthful of awful, and I didn't know what to do with it. I forced out a few quick coughs as I attempted to swallow the gob of Durian hovering on my tongue. When I could only force a portion of the fruit down, I knew I had to abort the taste test the only way I could. I lunged toward the sink and spat out the remaining portion of the Durian as quickly as possible. Despite my efforts to cleanse my mouth of the repulsive taste, I could feel parts of the fruit stuck to the roof of my mouth and the top of my tongue. I had no choice but to force down what remained. With a wince and another muffled cough I swallowed the remaining fruit in one hard gulp. The taste lingered immediately thereafter, which drove me to open my mouth, stick out my tongue, and grunt in disapproval. I squeezed my eyes shut and shuddered as the aftertaste continued.

As the taste lingered, I rolled my tongue in my mouth and looked up and Rachael, who stood feet away, camera at the ready. "Do you want to try it?" I asked cautiously. After a brief moment of consideration Rachael replied, "Sure" and started walking toward the fruit. She wisely took the slightest nibble of the yellow, pasty Durian. After letting the taste settle for a moment she said, "It's not that bad... If you have nothing else to eat, I guess."  I nodded in agreement with the last portion of her remark and expressed my desire to bring the Durian experiment to a close.

"What about the dogs?" Rachael asked as I started stacking the remaining pieces of the fruit. I grabbed one more chunk of the Durian and slowly lowered my hand toward the ground. Baxter and Buddy, our Dachshunds, approached my hand in anticipation. Once they caught a whiff of the Durian their eyes widened simultaneously and they began lapping at the creamy gob of fruit.  They were in a state of bliss as they began inhaling one of the stinkiest pieces of food they have likely ever encountered. In seconds Buddy tugged the fruit out of my hand and onto the floor. I moved quickly to pick it up and stop the Durian frenzy that was about to ensue. A look of disappointment crossed the dogs faces as they both sat down in a desperate attempt to win my favor and win back the Durian. Being a good father, I threw them both one more little piece before tossing the remaining Durian into a trash bag and walking it to the curb.

"Something unbelievably stinky we can eat! Yesssss!"

I immediately noticed the lingering smell of Durian hanging in the air as I walked back into the house.  The smell permeated each room I entered and maintained equal intensity regardless of my position in the house.  The persistence of the odor made me understand why public possession of Durian is illegal in some countries and left me hoping the smell would soon dissipate.  Two hours after my experience with Durian, a trace of the scent remains in my house. To be clear, this stuff stinks.

My experience with Durian will undoubtedly stay with me for quite some time. Although the fruit is not something I will ever seek as a seasonal treat, I'm happy I was able to experience one of the most infamous foods on the planet. Despite the awful taste, I must say I would likely try fresh Durian if I ever found myself in the fruit's native Thailand and was offered the chance. However, I wouldn't expect the experience to be much different than the one I had today. The Durian fruit's scent makes it incredibly difficult to notice the more tolerable aspects of its taste, and I assume this wouldn't be much different with a fresher fruit in a different part of the world. That aside, after today's "I have never..." event I must say I think the Durian fruit is worth trying. If nothing else, putting yourself through the Durian taste test lets you get some ridiculous photos and gain one hell of a story to tell about an otherwise typical experience.

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